Katie by Steph, Leslie, and Chuck / Mom, Dad, and Stephy

“She seems okay so far,” I murmured in a low voice. Kimmie was standing a bit behind me as I crouched down on my hands and knees and squinted into the shadows. There was an extra section of wooden fencing that was propped up against the back of the enclosed yard, forming a little lean-to. It was here that Kim’s dog Poji had decided to hide out and have her puppies. For a couple of days, Poji had remained cloistered, drinking and eating the food that Kim brought her, but unwilling to let anyone close to her babies. Finally, it seemed, she had decided to let us near enough to take a peek.

I advanced at a snail’s pace, speaking soothingly to Poji as I peered intently at the tiny little bodies that lay against her, nearly impossible to pick out in the darkness. There were at least two… and yes, a third. Three puppies were snuggled up tight against their mom, sleeping peacefully. I stood slowly and Kim crouched down in my place, “Yup, there’s three of them,” she whispered, relieved that all was well.

Over the next few days, Kim managed to get Poji and her pups relocated into the house, where they settled in comfortably. There were indeed three of them… two light brown, and one dark gray, beautiful little mutts. I became particularly enamored with one of the brown puppies, who was super-outgoing and energetic and playful. I entertained no notions of adopting any of them though… my Mom and her boyfriend Chuck and I already had a dog, Raleigh, who was quite a handful. And since I was in my freshman year of college and not around as much, I knew that bringing home another dog was totally out of the question.

All of that changed, however, one day when the puppies were about eight weeks old. I had stopped by Kim’s after class, and headed down to the basement to have one of my last visits with them, since I knew she was taking them to the North Shore Animal League for adoption within the week. As I approached, the little gray one, who had always been a bit quieter than the others, pushed her way through to the front and just stood there, staring at me steadily with her bright blue eyes. There was a quiet intelligence there, and this sort of moment of connection. Holding her gaze, I stepped forward, scooped her up, and held her up, inches from my face. She looked at me solemnly and leaned forward to lick my nose. That, as they say, was that.

“I’m going to need a box of some sort!” I called out, carrying the puppy with me up the stairs. Kim rounded the kitchen door, took one look at us, and shook her head.

“Your mother is so going to kill you.”

“I know.”

“Like, seriously. Kill you. How are you going to do this? And she thinks Poji is totally high strung. She’s never going to want one of her puppies. Are you kidding me?? And she’s also going to kill ME, by the way.”

“I know,” I replied. I knew. She would kill me. And Kim. And Chuck would too. But I also knew that this dog was something special and that I would figure it all out.

During the forty-minute ride home, I came up with a plan. Okay, not so much a plan as a big fat lie, but I was seventeen, and hadn’t developed the scrupulous moral code that I have today. Ahem.

I arrived home with my big cardboard box and regaled both Chuck and my Mom with a harrowing tale of the puppy that I found in the parking lot of a local strip mall, and how she had narrowly escaped being run down before I coaxed her out from under a parked car. I told them all about how I had gone from store to store asking people if they had any information, and no one did…. And she had no collar… and she clearly needed a flea bath… and I couldn’t very well just LEAVE her there, now could I??????

Well, between my dramatic reenactment and the inherent cuteness of the box’s contents, it wasn’t exactly a hard sell. After about twenty minutes of hemming and hawing, Mom and Chuck took a trip to the pet store for puppy supplies and flea shampoo, and we spent out first night with our new dog Katie, huddled around her on the floor of the kitchen, petting her and cheerfully squashing fleas.

Katie and Raleigh, our golden retriever, got along well, and spent several happy months together as Katie passed through the rites of puppyhood. Sadly, Raleigh had never been a healthy dog, and when she passed away over Thanksgiving, we had a sense of peace that she was in a better place. We became, once again, a one-dog household.

Through her sweet nature, intelligence, and sense of humor (yes, sense of humor!) Katie became an integral part of the family. She was playful and clever and kind to our pet birds, though she had absolutely no tolerance for the squirrels and rabbits that would tease her through the sliding glass doors. Her hackles would rise, and she’d barkandbarkandbark until you either let her out on her fruitless chase or otherwise distracted her (generally with Snausages). One of my favorite crazy Katie tricks was her towel-rolling. After a shower, I’d throw my damp towel on the floor, and she’d fling it up in the air with her nose, and roll around on it on her back in pure ecstatic joy. It never failed to crack me up.

Every spring, she’d use her excellent sniffer to help on the yearly Easter egg hunt (yes, my mother still hides my Easter eggs… but that’s another story ;). She’d spend long afternoons napping on the sofa, curled up in the crook of my knees, nose buried in the cushions, and evenings at our feet, spread out among us, always at the center of the family. When my friends came over to play board games or just hang around, Katie always had to be in the heart of the action. She loved everyone and everyone loved her.

After college, when I moved out, I missed her terribly, but it was fabulous to come home to her effusive greetings. Wagging her whole body enthusiastically, she’d make her way out the front door just in time to pee on the porch, and sometimes even on my foot. Now that’s love. She always looked so forlorn when I’d leave, and it broke my heart whenever I’d have to say goodbye to her, but I think she eventually got used to it and knew that I’d be coming back before long.

For YEARS I kept the truth about Katie’s roots a secret. I found it particularly funny because almost all of my friends knew the real story, but Mom or Chuck loved my made up version, and would often say, “Tell so-and-so about how you rescued Katie from that parking lot!” and I’d have to proceed to tell the story while my friends tried not to laugh. Sometime around Mom and Chuck’s wedding, I eventually them the truth… I figured it was time. 😉


It was generally agreed upon that I was a stinker, and THAT became the new story… The fake story of how I rescued Katie from the parking lot and the REAL story of what a stinker I was to keep it from them for that long.

In the summer of 2002, I got a phone call from my mother, who was very upset.
“Katie has some sort of growth on her behind. The vet’s running tests, but it could be cancer. We won’t know more for a few days.” My throat tightened… she was still a pretty young dog… only nine years old. “It’s just not fair,” Mom continued, tearfully. “She’s still so young and healthy and spunky, and if we lose her now it just seems so wrong. She’s still so much in her prime….”

Luckily, the growth proved to be benign, but it continued to grow, and we weren’t convinced. We all seemed to be all appreciating our time with Katie more and more…. “If she could just spend one more Christmas with us, I’d be so happy,” Chuck said that summer. When Mom came home with the economy-sized bucket of Snausages, we all looked at her as if she were being tragically optimistic. But Katie made it through that container, AND through Christmas of ’02, ’03, ’04, ’05, and ’06. And Mom kept the economy-sized bucket, and every time she refilled it, it felt like a triumph.

Over those five years, we got to see our Katie age, gracefully. The lump grew, but we all got used to her lopsided butt. “It’s Katie,” we’d say, affectionately. When her hearing faded slowly to nothing, we told her we loved her by looking right into her eyes and giving her a big smooch on the nose. When her hips got stiff we boosted her up the stairs or onto the bed, and when her bladder weakened, we (mostly Chuck – big kudos to Chuck) would patiently clean up her accidents. Though her body changed, the essence of Katie remained the same; she’d still stand right under you when you were cooking, hoping for fallout, and her nose and appetite remained uncompromised. She became brazen in her quest for food, and meals taken at the coffee table were never safe without a sentry at all times. We made exceptions for her as an elderly citizen.

She spent afternoons hanging halfway out the back door, napping with her nose in the breeze, or snoozing on the lawn as Mom gardened. Her daily activities came to primarily consist of hauling herself up from wherever she was napping in order to follow you to whatever room you were moving to so that she could flop down and continue sleeping there.

Every time I’d visit, I’d treasure her greeting at the door more and more. She’d step out stiffly, her lopsided butt wagging back and forth, and come out to sniff my foot and lick my nose. When I said goodbye, I made it extra special, realizing that our time together was becoming increasingly precious. Still, Katie just kept on being sparky little Katie.

This morning, when I turned on my phone there was a message from my mother. She and Chuck were at the emergency veterinary hospital and Katie wasn’t doing well. They were running all kinds of tests, but it didn’t look good. I checked the time stamp on the voice mail, and realized that it had been from hours before, and I knew that Katie was gone. I held my breath and called the house, and when my mom answered we started crying, and talking, and listening, and just being together over the phone. I called again and talked to Chuck, and we cried and talked and missed her together.

In the end, today is a very sad but special day. It saw a peaceful and loving farewell for one of the gentlest of souls. We were blessed to have our Katie for as long as we did, and to get to watch her live out her golden years. I’m so glad that she decided to march up and claim me all those years ago. She gave us so much love… no strings attached, just pure, trusting love and companionship, and she knew how much she was loved too, right up the very end. I think we’re all just going to have to be sad a while, and that’s okay. It’s a small price to pay for all the joy she brought us.


Thank you for the joy you brought us, sweetie,
Steph, Leslie, and Chuck